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John Hilton

Born  1804
Died  1878

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British surgeon and anatomist, born 1804, Castle Hedingham, Essex, died September 14, 1878, Hedingham House, Clapham.

Biography of John Hilton

John Hilton began his medical training at Guy's Hospital in London in 1824. He gained membership of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1827, and became demonstrator of anatomy at Guy's in 1828, only 24 years of age. In 1844 he was appointed assistant surgeon, full surgeon in 1849.

In 1859 Hilton was appointed professor of human anatomy and surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons College. In this position, during the years of 1860, 1861, and 1862, he gave a series of lectures on pain and the influence of physiological and mechanical rest in the treatment of surgical diseases. In 1867 he gave the Hunterian address/lecture. He was Surgeon-Extraordinary to the queen and president of the medical society, the pathological society, and the newly-founded Sydenham Society, and was president of the surgical section of the assembly of the British Medical Association in London in 1873.

Upon retirement in 1870 he was appointed consulting surgeon. He was active in the affairs of the Royal College of Surgeons and served on the council from 1854 until his death, serving as president in 1867, in which position he demonstrated large administrative and organisational talent. .

A very skilful observer and shrewd clinically, he could interest students in the most mundane topics and always managed to find some point overlooked by others so that he was highly regarded as a consultant. He was no scientist and opposed and ridiculed Darwin's ideas and although his rounds and lectures were always crowded, he was not liked by many students, whom he often hurt by sarcasm and jokes at their expense.

    «It would be well, I think, if the surgeon would fix upon his memory, as the first professional thought which should accompany him in the course of his daily occupation, this physiological truth - that Nature has a constant tendency to repair the injuries to which her structures may have been subjected, whether those injuries be the result of fatigue or exhaustion, of inflammation or accident. Also that this reparative power becomes at once most conspicuous when the disturbing cause has been removed: thus presenting to the consideration of the physician and surgeon a constantly recurring and sound principle for his guidance in his profession.» On Rest and Pain, Lecture 3.


  • Notes of a peculiar appearance observed in human muscle, probably depending upon the formation of very small cysticerci.
    The London Medical Gazette, 1833, 11: 605.
    Hilton described Trichinella spiralis and suggested its parasitic nature.
  • A system of operative surgery; etc. London, 1835.
  • On the distribution and probable function of the superior and recurrent laryngeal nerves. London, 1835.
  • Case of internal strangulation of intestine relieved by operation.
    By Golding Bird (1814-1854) and J. Hilton.
    Medico-Chirurgical Transactions, London, 1847,30: 51-67.
    Records the first operation for intestinal strangulation of the small intestine by Hilton at Guy's Hospital. No anaesthetic was used; the patient died nine hours afterward.
  • On the influence of mechanical and physiological rest in the treatment of accidents and surgical diseases, and the diagnostic value of pain.
    London, Bell and Daldy, 1863. 99 pages.
    In a series of lectures at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1860, 1861 and 1862, Hilton introduced a new concept in the treatment of surgical disorders by urging removal only of those tissues which hindered nature's own healing process and by advocating rest as being of prime importance in this natural process. This classic work has been reprinted for more than a hundred years, and it still contains valuable and valid lessons. The sixth edition appeared in 1950. Second and later editions are entitled On Rest and Pain.
  • On Rest and Pain: a Course of Lectures on the Influence of Mechanical and Physiological Rest in the Treatment of Accidents and Surgical Diseases, and the Diagnostic Value of Pain, delivered at the Royal College of Surgeons of England in the years 1860, 1861, and 1862.
    2nd edition, edited by W.H.A. Jacobson, London, G. Bell, 1877. 478 pages.
    2nd edition, New York, William Wood & Co., 1879.
    3rd edition, edited by W.H.A. Jacobson, London, G. Bell, 1880.
    5th edition, edited by W.H.A. Jacobson, London, G. Bell, 1892.

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